vegetarian month & crispy baked quesadillas

2013 is over! This year really seemed to go by fast. In 2013, I cooked lots of cool things, taught some great kids at the best school in the north Chicagoland area, and spent lots of quality time with our wonderful little family.

Sarah and I are going to go vegetarian for January 2014. I don’t believe in juice fasts, cleanses, or really dieting in general — but no one can deny that eating fewer animal products is something that is generally a good idea. So for the next 31 days, we are cutting out meat from our diet. Fish too, although I think we’re making an exception for oyster sauce and fish sauce.

One of the first things I did when we decided to go meat-free was to look through my extensive cookbook collection. I’m a big cookbook junkie: I love flipping through them, reading them cover to cover, re-typing or iPhone-scanning my favorite recipes into my Evernote recipe database (nerd alert), and making little notes in the margins about what worked and what didn’t. For Christmas this year, I was lucky to get some great-looking books: Tacos by Mark Miller (thanks Len and Sharon!), the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman (thanks Chris and Kaitlin!) and Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (thanks Connor!). While none of these are strictly vegetarian books, they all have quite a few vegetarian recipes. In particular, I’m looking forward to trying the rajas and cheese tacos, some of Deb’s vegetarian pasta dishes, and one of the pan-Middle Eastern dishes from the Ottolenghi book, shot through with a good dose of lemon and garlic.

I’ve also been consulting my favorite food website, Serious Eats. Kenji Lopez-Alt (major dude crush) is always killing it with new recipes, and while he writes a lot about meat, he has developed some really great vegan and vegetarian recipes as well. Sarah is a big soup fan, so I’ll be making his coconut / habanero lentil soup, white bean soup with rosemary, peanut noodles, and this promising vegetable soup.

So, this month you can hope for more frequent updates, with photos, recipes, links, and rants. I’ll leave you with a recipe for easy oven-fried quesadillas. We often fill them with shreds of leftover chicken, but they also go great with a few spoonfuls of black beans. To successfully "oven-fry" something, you need a nice heavy sheet pan (I like the restaurant / bakery-style "half sheet pans") and enough oil. Don’t worry, most of that oil isn’t going to soak into your food. The oil’s job is to ensure even browning and crisping while making sure that your ‘dillas don’t stick.

No photos for this one, sorry. I will try to do a better job of documenting as the month goes on!

crispy baked quesadillas with spicy black beans

makes 6 full-size (round) tortillas, enough for 2 good-sized main courses or 4 sides (easily doubled, just use two sheet pans)


  • about 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1 14-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • about 1 cup of your favorite jarred or homemade salsa, plus more for serving
  • about 1-2 cups shredded melting cheese, like cheddar, queso oaxaca, jack, or mozzarella (or a mixture)


Preheat your oven to 475 degrees. Spread 2 tablespoons of oil on the sheet pan and distribute evenly with your [clean] hands or a brush.

Brush or smear each side of each tortilla with oil. Lay 6 of them out on the sheet pan and top them in this order: a few teaspoons of cheese, about a teaspoon of black beans, about a teaspoon of salsa, and some more cheese on top. Top with the other 6 tortillas.

When the oven is hot enough, place the sheet pan on a middle rack and bake for about 7-8 minutes. Check to see if the bottom is browning nicely. The quesadillas should release pretty easily from the pan. If they’re still sticking, they probably need more time. Continue to bake until the bottom is well-crisped, which could take another 5 minutes or so.

Using a firm, thin metal spatula, carefully flip each quesadilla and return to the oven. Bake until the other side is well crisped as well, just a few more minutes (they never take as much time on the other side).

Remove to a plate (if you’re especially concerned about a few errant drops of oil, blot with a paper towel). Let cool for about a minute, then cut in half with a heavy knife or pizza cutter. Serve with additional salsa.


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